Fourteen-year-old Brandi Levy was having that kind of day where she just wanted to scream. So she did, in a profanity-laced posting on Snapchat that has, improbably, ended up before the Supreme Court in the most significant case on student speech in more than 50 years.
At issue is whether public schools can discipline students over something they say off-campus. The topic is especially meaningful in a time of remote learning because of the coronavirus pandemic and a rising awareness of the pernicious effects of online bullying.
Arguments are on Wednesday, via telephone because of the pandemic, before a court on which several justices have school-age children or recently did.
The case has its roots in the Vietnam-era case of a high school in Des Moines, Iowa, that suspended students who wore armbands to protest the war. In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court sided with the students, declaring students don’t “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
Ever since, courts have wrestled with the contours of the decision in Tinker v. Des Moines in 1969. Levy’s case has none of the lofty motives of Tinker and more than its share of teenage angst.
Levy and a friend were at a convenience store in her hometown of Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, when she took to social media to express her frustration at being kept on her high school’s junior varsity cheerleading squad for another year.